Being a capable leader and manager is more than just having academic and technical skills. It also requires soft skills, which some believe cannot be taught at all. While there is now widespread disagreement because of the nature versus nurture debate, many MBA programs have started to place an emphasis on the development of soft skills. They understand that being an effective leader means being able to communicate to audiences of all backgrounds and sizes, which means they must be able to do more than just writing a company’s strategic report filled with business jargon.
What Are Soft Skills?
Defining soft skills seems to be as difficult as determining whether they can be taught or not. However, it is widely agreed that the most important soft skills are:
1. Being self aware and self motivated
2. Having integrity
3. Having cross-cultural competency
4. Being a critical thinker
5. Having strong team skills
6. Being an excellent communicator
7. Feeling comfortable when faced with uncertainty and ambiguity
8. Being creative
9. Being able to execute ideas
10. Being able to sell
11. Having excellent decision making skills
12. Being a strong leader
13. Being able to solve problems
14. Having excellent time management skills
15. Being able to thrive under pressure
How MBA Programs Are Addressing Soft Skills
A recent study by Hult Labs showed that employers continue to think that MBA graduates have to improve on their soft skills. While graduates have excellent theoretical knowledge, they lack skills in communication, integrity, and self-awareness. It is believed that this is due to the fact that MBA programs tend to focus on case studies that are safe and don’t provide people with real life situations. As a result of the said study, MBA programs are being overhauled with regards to the way they are being delivered.
Self-awareness is the key soft skill that employers felt MBA graduates were lacking. Many graduates seem to think that they are always right, because they have the “book smarts”. However, this doesn’t always mean that they can deal with the complex, fast changing, real life situations of the workplace.
The Hult research demonstrated that employers have a negative view of the outcomes and processes of business education. They heavily criticized the schools for not putting systems in place to see how students were progressing in the areas of soft skills. The overarching conclusion was that schools should increase access to real life situations for their students. The Hult International Business School immediately took a leaf out of its own book and adapted a curriculum, which now includes results through collaboration, interpersonal influence, and growth and professional mindset. These three elements focus on 10 specific soft skills that have been identified as some of the most important ones.
The Hult Elements
At the Hult International Business School, students start by taking part in a three week immersion course, where they look at their personal strengths and weaknesses as they participate in various team activities. At the same time, they will learn how to give feedback in a constructive manner, and how to take criticism. Some of the things they will be measured on is whether they are reactive or responsive, and whether they can control their emotions. Hult students are always being assessed, which puts them under considerable stress. However, this is similar to a real life experience that enables them to develop important soft skills.
Hult has now served as an example for many other business schools. No longer does an MBA program focus solely on hard and technical skills. Rather, there is now an emphasis on soft skills as well. It is also for this reason that some schools no longer have a GMAT requirement, as the GMAT does not measure communication and presentation skills, which are requirements to the business world we live in today.
The Wilfrid Laurier University MBA Program
Another school that has implemented the lessons learned from the Hult research is Wilfrid Laurier University. Their MBA program includes professional development, whereby coaches work on improving students’ communication skills. Students take part in a variety of events as a member of a team, aiming to resolve a specific problem. They then hold a presentation on their findings. Doing this will give the students the ability to work as part of a team, to improve their communication skills, to become engaging, and to receive criticism and feedback without reacting to it.
The MBA Program at Queen’s University
Queen’s University, meanwhile, has also identified a gap. They are addressing it by bringing in professionals to speak specifically about business communication. This ensures that when students graduate from a Queen’s University MBA program, they will be ready to hold presentations and sell ideas to board of directors and senior management teams.
Impact of the Hult Research
What the Hult research has done, is show universities that the reality of today’s business world is that soft skills are an absolute necessity. Having the technical skills to perform a job does not mean you can actually manage the job itself, including its mental and physical demands. This is why self awareness and team building are such important skills nowadays.
The Hult program is now known to be incredibly challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. The school has received invaluable positive feedback from its students, who come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Hundreds of MBA programs the world over are now taking note of what Hult has done following its research and they have started to adapt their own course offerings to reflect this.
Learning Soft Skills
So can soft skills be taught? It is now agreed that this is absolutely true, although having a natural affinity to them can be helpful. However, these skills cannot be taught by reading a book or listening to a professor. Rather, they can only be learned by going out into the field, taking on a position of leadership and start to manage the business. This must be done in real life situations, rather than controlled experiments, because being able to expect the unexpected, and think outside of the box in an innovative manner, while at the same time continuing to communicate with other members of staff, are the most important staff skills of all.